Chairman Chance resigns following a tense Stanly County School Board meeting
A lengthy and at times contentious school board meeting Tuesday night ended after more than three hours with board chairman Jeff Chance announcing his resignation after the board came out of closed session.
“At this time, I hereby resign from the board of education effective immediately,” he said, before making a motion that the board adjourn.
In a short statement released to the paper Wednesday afternoon, Superintendent Dr. Jarrod Dennis said “It has been a privilege to work with Chairman Chance since I began my position in Stanly County Schools. His unwavering commitment to the students and staff of Stanly County Schools will always be remembered. ”
Chance’s announcement followed a tense exchange during closing comments as board members discussed why the venue for the meeting had been changed from its usual location in the spacious Gene McIntyre Meeting Room to the much smaller staff development room, where the public was not allowed entry except to briefly speak during public comments.
“We have to do everything we can to ensure the public has access to these things,” said board member Anthony Graves who, along with board member Bill Sorenson, took issue with the board not allowing the public in-person access to the meeting.
In an interview Wednesday morning, Graves said he first found out about the change in location on Sunday. He initially thought the location had been changed due to some sort of threat that was conveyed to board members or school faculty, though that was not the case. When Graves reached out to the central office on Monday, he was told that Chance had made the decision.
As discussions continued at Tuesday’s meeting, Chance revealed his life had been threatened over the past few months, during a time where the board voted to require masks in schools, which has been deeply unpopular with large parts of the community.
Chance also said other board members and some central office staff had not felt safe the previous two board meetings which were both open to the public and which involved numerous individuals having to be escorted out by law enforcement. Board member Carla Poplin mentioned she could barely hear the other members during the September meeting at the Central Elementary auditorium because the crowd was so loud and rowdy.
Board member Glenda Gibson said two members had been “accosted out in public” recently, which she said was unacceptable. “We can’t have that and we’re not going to have that.”
While Graves said that board members should never be threatened, the public does have a First Amendment right to attend board meetings and let their voices be heard.
“We live in a country with the First Amendment and people have the right to speak their mind, no matter how uncomfortable it makes us,” he said.
The Stanly News & Press has reached out to Chance for more comments regarding his decision. He said he would reveal his thoughts later Wednesday. The SNAP also reached out to Gibson for comments.
When asked by Graves why the location was moved, Chance said a meeting was conducted between several board members and law enforcement, including the sheriff’s office, two weeks ago. After the members expressed they did not feel safe with the public in attendance, Chance said law enforcement recommended the change of location for the October meeting.
Chance was told that the board could legally change locations so long as the public could speak and video was made available. The school system had also notified local media outlets a few days in advance about the change in location.
Regarding Chance’s resignation, Graves said on Wednesday morning the announcement took him by surprise.
“It was a total shock,” he said.
As vice chairman, Gibson will likely take over Chance’s position, at least for the time being, Graves said.
In an interview Wednesday morning with Sheriff Jeff Crisco, he said he was escorting individuals out of the room after public comments when he learned board members had mentioned his office had recommended the change in location, which was not true, he said.
Crisco said the sheriff’s office was used as “a scapegoat” and that some of the board members were “throwing the sheriff’s office, including myself, under the bus” when the original assertion was made that law enforcement had recommended the change in location.
Crisco said he spoke to the board about the issue during closed session once the live video feed ended.
“I did not appreciate in any way, shape or form that they would use my sheriff’s office as a scapegoat or throw us under the bus for the decisions that they make or not make,” he said.
Graves said he did not like the way Crisco and the sheriff’s office had been treated, noting that Crisco was “totally professional and very firm” when discussing the matter with the board during closed session. Graves said he didn’t want the board or the public to have the false impression that the sheriff’s office played a role in the meeting location being changed.
After the closed session, right before he announced his resignation, Chance reversed what he previously had stated and said law enforcement did not suggest the board move the meeting location. The recommendation was made by Asheville-based law firm Campbell Shatley, which represents the school system and other districts across the state.
Crisco told the SNAP that Superintendent Dr. Jarrod Dennis did arrange a meeting a few weeks ago with Crisco, David Poston, the interim Albemarle Police chief, Chance, Gibson and school staff.
“The meeting was pertaining to the sheriff’s office and the security at the school board events,” Crisco said.
The prospect of moving the location for the October board meeting for security reasons was brought up, but it was not Crisco’s suggestion, he said. He had mentioned that the school board meetings should continue to be held at the Gene McIntyre Meeting Room and that he would personally attend each meeting and address the crowd before the meeting’s start, saying if any of them got rowdy or caused an uproar, they would be escorted out.
“We want this meeting to be civilized and we want your voices to be heard, but it’s going to be conducted in a civilized manner,” he said.
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